Saturday, December 02, 2023

The Protevangelium of James


Opening Passage: 

In the Histories of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, there was a very wealthy man named Joachim. And he used to double the gifts he offered to the Lord, saying to himself, "One portion from my abundance will be for all the people; the other portion for forgiveness will be for the Lord God as my sin-offering."

Now the great day of the Lord was approaching, and the children of Israel were offering their gifts. And Reubel stood before him and said, "You are not permitted to offer your gifts first because you have not produced an offspring in Israel." (1:1-5, pp. 49-50)

Summary: Perhaps the most convenient way to think of the Protevangelium is to think of it as the ancestor of the Christmas pageant. The Christmas pageant puts the stories of Matthew and Luke together into a single narrative; the way this is done has less to do with the Gospels than just the kind of story you are using to put them together. For instance, despite the fact that the most natural reading of the beginning of Matthew suggests that the visit of the Magi is quite a bit later than the birth itself, in a Christmas pageant one just has the Three Kings arriving around the same time as the shepherds; they are three not because the Gospel says that but because they are said to bring three gifts. We often depict an ox and an ass; neither are from the Gospels but are symbols from Isaiah 1:3 plausibly literalized given the rest of the story. Other features of a Christian pageant aren't from either Gospel or prophecy but are instead aids to imagination (like comic sidekicks, visual gags, or highly stylized symbols). The author of the Protevangelium is crafting his narrative in very much the same ways.

Joachim is an extremely wealthy man in all ways but one: he and his wife Anna have no child. This is not merely a personal inconvenience, as it actively prevents them from participating in the religious life of their people in the way that they feel called to do. Joachim therefore goes into the wilderness and fasts for forty days and forty nights, while Anna at home prays for a child like Sarah before her, lamenting her fate as a barren woman. Then the angel of the Lord appears and lets her know that she will bear a famous offspring; in thanks, Anna vows that the child, whether boy or girl, will be consecrated to the service of the Lord. Joachim, who has also been visited by an angel, returns and in rejoicing they both pay for a very great sacrifice not only for themselves but for all the people of Israel. Eventually a daughter is born, and her name is Mary. The two parents decide to keep her for a few years, so that she will have the benefit of knowing her parents, but Anna turns Mary's bedroom into a sort of sanctuary in anticipation of the time when they will bring Mary to the Temple to be formally devoted to God. Mary is taken up to the Temple at the age of three, and is accepted by the priests; she dances for joy "and the whole house of Israel loved her" (7:10). Mary stays in the Temple, "nurtured like a dove, receiving her food from the hand of an angel" (8:2). 

However, even holy girls grow up, and the priests eventually start worrying about what to do once Mary reaches puberty. They therefore decide that she should be married to a man who will be her guardian; the work is never very explicit, but it's clear from how the story unfolds that their idea is that she will continue to be a virgin devoted to the service of the Temple, but will be married to a man who will be her guardian. They hold a sacred lottery, and the carpenter Joseph is chosen to be the guardian. Joseph thinks it's absurd that he, an elderly man, should be marrying such a young woman, but the priests more or less browbeat him into accepting. (One of the interesting features of the story as told here is that while Joseph always does right by Mary, he absolutely does not want to be married to her and is extremely embarrassed by the whole affair.) 

Joseph has houses to build, so he has to leave Mary alone for an extended period of time. The priests in the meantime need a new curtain for the Temple, so by lottery they assign tasks in its making to virgins devoted to the Temple; Mary gets the task of spinning threads of purple and scarlet (which, of course, are an omen representing royalty and priesthood). It is during the period that she is spinning the thread that the angel comes to her in the Annunciation. A curious feature of the story in the Protevangelium is the Mary not long after goes on to forget the event. This is not explained at all, but it's possible that the author intends this not to be unexplained amnesia but rather that she forgot that it was real -- i.e., she convinces herself that it was just a dream or something similar. In any case, she does forget it, so is surprised when she visits her cousin Elizabeth and Elizabeth says she is blessed; she is actively distraught when she realizes that she has become pregnant.

Joseph, of course, finds out about the pregnancy, and assuming that she has been seduced by someone while he was away, feels guilty about not having protected her. However, Mary is sufficiently convincing that this is not the case, that he does not know what to do. He decides to divorce her in secret, but is prevented by a dream from an angel. Things are not so easy, though, because one of the scribes, Annas, discovers Mary's pregnancy, and Joseph and Mary are hauled before the priests, and when they try to defend themselves as innocent, are accused of lying. The priests have them both drink "the water of conviction" (16:3), a procedure they use in such cases when people are not confessing; they both have to drink and spend some time in the wilderness. But they both pass the test. The priests are not sure what to make of this, but they can't condemn someone God refuses to condemn, so Joseph and Mary are allowed to go home.

A decree goes out from King Augustus that everyone from Bethelehm of Judea be registered for a census; Joseph will register his sons, but he is flummoxed as to how he should state Mary's relation to him. They head to Bethlehem, but as they get close, Mary has a vision and goes into labor, so Joseph in the emergency finds a cave for her to give birth in, and goes out to find a midwife. The narrative then has a strange shift -- in third person up to this point, it now switches to Joseph speaking in the first person. As he's searching, he experiences a strange event in which time seems to stand still for a moment, then meets up with the midwife. (Joseph stumbles badly through trying to explain his relation to Mary.) Joseph and the midwife return to the cave (the narrative switches back to third person), but the cave is covered with a dark cloud which suddenly dissipates in the face of a great and blinding light shining from within the cave, which decreases until they see at the center of it an infant: Mary has given birth to a son. The midwife leaves and tells another woman, Salome, that she has seen a virgin give birth in a miracle; Salome regards this as absurd, but the midwife brings her to Mary. Salome tests Mary's virginity with a finger and is amazed to find the hymen intact, but perhaps in the moment is more amazed to find her hand catching fire. She prays in repentance to God, and an angel appears to her telling her that God accepts her repentance, and that she will be healed if she holds the child, which she does and is. A voice then tells her to keep this all a secret until the child goes to Jerusalem.

We then have another shift; we are told that Joseph is preparing to go to Judea. This is sometimes taken to indicate that the author is muddled about geography, but it could very well be that the author is simply indicating that the next events only occur some time later (and, in fact, given how the rest of the story unfolds, this is almost certainly the case). There is a great commotion in Bethlehem of Judea because Magi had come to King Herod asking about the newborn King of the Jews, with the result that Herod orders all children in the area around Bethlehem who are under two years of age to be killed. Mary, being frightened for her child, swaddles him in clothes and lays him in a manger. This is a somewhat odd behavior; not all manuscripts seem to have it, so it might be an odd interpolation, but in any case, the idea is clear -- she's trying to hide the child. Elizabeth also tries to hide her child, but cannot find a hiding place, so at her prayer an angel hides her in a mountain to protect her. Herod, however, has heard of Elizabeth's child and tries to bully Zechariah into saying where his son is hid; Zechariah protests that he can't possibly know because he has been serving in the Temple. The result is that Zechariah is murdered at dawn before the altars of the Lord, and the priests and the people are in fear and lamentation.

And at that, the Protevangelium essentially ends, with a note saying that the account was written by James.

It's a remarkable story, with the movement from lamentation to lamentation, the deliberate refusal to create any kind of happy ending in the narrative itself, and its occasionally very vivid description. The author in drawing from very disparate sources manages to make an interesting whole. It is not a smooth whole, though; there are clear seams, and the first-person narrative of Joseph, one of the most remarkable and vivid parts of the book, suddenly disrupts the narrative and then fades back out. However, even that seems to have a certain artistry, because it comes at exactly the right time to heighten the preparation for the climax of the book, which is, of course, the Nativity. Joseph is in many ways the most interestingly characterized person; I suspect that most Christians would not particularly like this version of Joseph, but he is a very three-dimensional character here, a just man but heavily motivated by fear and embarrassment. The Protevangelium is not a perfunctory telling of legends; we are getting not merely stories, but the author's very vivid imagining of the events, and it sometimes results in excellent details, both symbolic details and details of character. I don't think it's surprising that the work has exercised the influence it has; just on purely literary grounds it is in some ways a very impressive work.

Favorite Passage: This curious passage is just an astoundingly good bit of description and I would imagine the earliest literary depiction of the idea of time stopping:

And I, Joseph, was walking, and yet I was not walking. And I looked up to the vault of heaven and saw it standing still, and to the air and saw it seized in amazement, and the birds of the sky were at rest. And I looked down to the earth and I saw a bowl laid there and workers reclining around it with their hands in the bowl. But the ones chewing were not chewing; and the ones lifting up something to eat were not lifting it up; and the ones putting food in their mouths were not putting food into their mouths. But all their faces were looking upward; And I saw sheep being driven along, but the sheep stood still. And the shepherd raised his hand to strike them with a rod, but his hand was still raised. And I looked down upon the flowing river and I saw some young goats with their mouths over the water but they were not drinking. Then all at once everything returned to its course. (18:3-11;, pp. 95-96)

Recommendation: Highly Recommended. I actually just expected that it would be a 'Recommended', but in this closer reading of the work, I was very impressed by the artistry of much of it.


The Protevangelium of James, Lily C. Vuong, tr., Early Christian Apocrypha 7, Cascade Books (Eugene, OR: 2019).

Friday, December 01, 2023

Dashed Off XXXIV

 This begins the notebook started in March 2023.

the vestment of divine names, woven by the human mind and worn by God with fatherly grace

Documentations occur 'within' manifestations.

The moral authority of professional organizations in civil society is a moral authority specifically relevant to *advising*.

Free will is one mode of the self-diffusiveness of the good.

person as the ultimate term of nature

A lot of Anglo-American ethics is as if you said, "You shouldn't drive in bad weather conditions," and someone replied, "But what if it were the only way to escape serial killers from outer space?"

Unrestricted quantification is a recurring source of failure in analytic philosophy.

Possible worlds, as commonly understood, are not things like-the-actual-world-but-not; they are the actual world considered a particular way. The actual world is not one world among others; it is the world, and takes a whole manifold of possible worlds to describe even at the level of what is possible in the actual world. The actual world is not any of these possible worlds; all possible worlds are particular aspects of the actual world. The notion of possibility is not something we discover by looking at possible worlds; it is something we discover by looking at the actual world.

Philosophy does not exist to be a mere opinion-expander.

For most things, only such possible worlds should be admitted as have causes to justify them.

relevant as subaltern of important

Wittgenstein's entire philosophy is woven out of analogies.

clock (periodic process) + 'when next' and 'when last' operators -> metric tense operators.

Every morality implies a set of metaphysical views.

Dialectical effectiveness and rhetorical effectiveness are not the same, but are often confused.

the work of art as the ideal that is made

It's not possible to support people simpliciter; support is always directed to a particular set of problems or is support in their doing something specific. When people talk about supporting people, the question of importance is always, "Support them in doing or in enduring what?"

title : right :: standing : claim

degrees of title

A mother has both a role of motherhood and an office of motherhood, which are distinct.

The practice of the Church is such a vast universe that there are entire regions without any adequate account, no one ever having had the time to work out one. Five hundred years of concentrated hard work could scarcely suffice to clarify all of the essentials of some of these regions, and work has never been concentrated but diffused among many topics.

"There is nothing beautiful, pleasing, or grand in life, but that which is more or less mysterious. The most wonderful sentiments are those which produce impressions difficult to be explained. Modesty, chaste love, virtuous friendship, are full of secrets." Chateaubriand
"The Eucharist announces the reunion of mankind into one great family. It inculcates the cessation of enmities, actual equality, and the commencement of a new law, which will make no distinction of Jew or Gentile, but invites all the children of Adam to sit down at the same table."

three forms of unity of a community: common origin, common likeness, common presence
(heritage, constitution, vicinity)

acrostic poems in Scritpure as indicating a totality
-- Ps 25 &34 omit the difficult waw line and add a pe line at the end to keep the number; Ps 25 substitutes an extra resh line for the qop line
-- Ps 37 is acrostic at every other line, Ps 145 in the Masoretic has no nun line & is acrostic at half-verse
-- Ps 119 (Scripture as cosmos), Ps 31:10-31 (Church as cosmos), Ps 111 (divine works as cosmos), Ps 112 (reward of righteous as complete), Ps 25 (dependence of God as complete), Ps 34 &37 (just life as complete), Ps 9-10 (God's complete authority with respect to world), Ps 145 (greatness of God's total praiseworthiness), Lam 1 & 2 & 4 (totality of abjection) --- (something to all this, but needs fine-tuning)

Infallibility is not insight, and insight is not infallibility.

"The Fathers are primarily to be considered *witnesses*, not as *authorities*." Newman

The Via Media between Catholic and Protestant is in the Catholic Church.

In minor sacraments, neither the substance of the signs nor their natural qualities and quantities are changed, but they are given a new end in the prayer life and ritual of teh Chruch, just as wax may be given a new end in sealing a document for legal purposes.

What cannot have a coherent set of life activities cannot understand anything.

the 'fat' of oil as symbol of sacrifice

Professional ethics is an expression of professional reason; professions are habitual formations of reason to particular ends, and professional ethics expresses consistency with this.

The Church Triumphant clings to God both by habitude, expressing nature, and by similitude, effect of grace.

Doing and allowing are not sharply distinguishable; obviously one can do both at once, and there are regions of confusion whose relation to either is difficult to determine.

Many accounts of the diversity of early Christianity seem to provide no adequate account of why the episcopally associated groups won out.

F. C. Burkit (Journal of Theological Studies Vol 23) suggests that 'Barbelo' is a garbling of 'Bara elohim'.

Irenaeus's basic diagnosis of the Gnostics -- that htey are attempting to a creat a super-narrative combining Greek theogony, philosophical explanations of the world, and Scripture -- seems plausible given the structures we actually see.

divine wisdom as the exemplar cause of history

It pertains to the Father to have the Spirit and from the Father the Son has it it that it pertains to the Son to have the Spirit.

ecclesial rights of publicity and of privacy

The inability to think of sympathy except in terms of 'identity' (genus) is perverse and yet common.

Many Gnostic texts seem to have a particularly anti-Apostolic thrust (probably as part of an anti-episcopal thrust). 

Gnostic gospels ar enot put forward as a canon but as an anti-canon, as private revelations for the few fit to see the falsehood of the alleged public revelation, as an individual rather than communal tradition.

the proto-Nestorianism of the Gospel of Judas

The anti-episcopal thrust of many Gnostic texts explains why Irenaeus emphasizes Apostolic succession -- and, what is more, the multiplicity of Apostolic successions -- in response.

Targum Pseudo-Jonathan takes the angels to be created on the Second Day.

Everything meaningful is capable of being allegorical.

almsgiving as ransom for sins: Did. 4:6, Barn 19:10

Poschmann (Penance and the Anointing of the Sick): The sacrament of penance as we find it in the Apostolic Fathers tends to be presented as a one-time restoration for grave sins. (However, it was not the exclusive penitential practice, because deathbed repentance was recognized even for recidivists, at least as far as we can tell, and penitence outside that of the restorative was also practiced.) It was also public, primarily in mortification, but also requried open confession to the community in order to receive their prayers. In some cases, it also seems ot have required taking up a vow of religious life, with a vow of perpetual chastity, in an order of penitents. Slowly an alternative developed for clergy and religious -- private secession or withdrawal into solitude -- to deal with the practical complications in those cases, as well as to conform to the theology of ordination and of monastic vow; and taking a monastic vow (benedictio penitentiae) likewise comes to be seen as an equivalent to joining an order of penitents, if done by permission of the Church for that reason. Private penance arises in fifth or sixth century in remote areas (e.g., Britain and Ireland), where penitential matters had to be handled by priests with often scattered flocks rather than bishops in city centers. This then flows back to the center and, because it puts more emphasis on confession than mortification, intersects with developing practices of spiritual direction. Attempts to crack down on this and return to public canonical penance failed, due to the difficulty of the latter, so instead the procedures for private penance were standardized, although public penance continued for notorious sins. IV Lateran introduces the requirement of periodic private confession, although in this it was supporting an already spreading practice. Reconciliation to communion, however, continued for a long time to be a separate process but (again for practical practical reasons) in the second millenium faded.
-- Note that Jesus Himself is the model of private confession and absolution.
-- At the same time that private confession is spreading, penitential pilgrimage (in which one goes on an extended pilgrimage to receive at the end a penance imposed by a bishop, especially the Pope) also began to be popular as a substitute for canonical penance. (cf. Njal's Saga)
-- Early mortification for penance seems primarily to have been social, but corporal chastisement (esp. flagellation) keeps springing up, especially in monastic contexts.

Every sacrament, in addition to its proper act (and as a result of it) instills a disposition to receive grace.

1 Tm 2:1
deeseis: petitions (from word for 'need')
proseuchas: prayers (from word for 'wish/prayer')
enteuxeis: intercessions (from word for 'intervention' or 'approach to king')
eucharistias: thanksgiving (from word for 'thankfulness')

"For it is known that anyone who denies one of God's perfections denies them all." Mendelssohn

groupoids as abstract possibilities of shapes

Demeter Thesmophoros (Allaire B. Stallsmith, "The Name of Demeter Thesmophoros")
-- thesmos: what is laid down
thesmodotes: law-giver
thesmothetes: lawmaker
thesmosyne: lawfulness
thesmophylax: guardian of law
--> appears to be distinguished (at least sometimes) from nomos by being divine or having great antiquity (cp. Odyssey 23.296)
-- there is also attestation to Demeter Thesmia (at Pheneus)
-- the Thesmophorion was the center of many of Demeter's festivals, of which the Thesmophoria was merely an important example (the mystery-initiation of Demeter)
-- the title is probably associated with agriculture and the mystery rites thereof.

All the parables in Matthew 13 are found in cognate form in the Gospel of Thomas, although not in the same order.

The Valentinian Tripartite Tractate holds that the Son is unbegotten and that "the Father rests upon the Son"; the Son and the Logos are also distinguished, the Logos being a limited and defective aeon who made the world. (Curiously, it still recognizes the Son as Christ and as the knowledge of the Father.) Its Trinity is Father, Son, and Church (the Aeon of aeons), but it still recognizes baptism as "into God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

Clement of Alexandria (Stromata 7:17) -- the Valentinians claimed that Valentinus was student of Theudas who was student of Paul.
Tertullian (Presc. Haer. 41) -- the inclusiveness of the Valentinians as a reason for their spread (cf. also Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 1.13.3 and Tertullian, Adv. Valent. 1)
Irenaeus on Valentinian liturgy -- Adv. Haer. 1.21.3

five sacraments according to Gospel of Philip: baptism, anointing, redemption (ransom), eucharist, nymphon -- unclear whether these were completely distinct or seen as parts of the Valentinian 'greater baptismal rite'; some have argued that redemption is a form of exorcism and bridal chamber a form of imposition of hands.
-- Gospel of Philip privileges anointing over baptism because it is a reception of 'everything': "resurrection, light, cross, Holy Spirit" (Phil 74:12-21); note connection to title of Christ (67:19-26)
-- the eucharist is seen as wedding-feast (Theod. 63:1), life-giving food (Phil 55:6-13, 73:19-25), with the wine as full of grace and Spirit (75:17-18); both are associated with flesh and blood of resurrection body (56:26-57:22).
-- In the nymphon, the Valentinians seem to have thought you became united with your heavenly angel (aeon), the bridegroom.
-- Given how they are talked about, the Valentinians may have thought that the whole set of sacraments pre-enact what happens to the saved after death.
-- At least one prayer related to the anointing associates it with trampling snakes, scorpions, and the power of the Devil.

All aesthetic effects are downstream from physical necessities.

Scripture as a history of liturgy

There is no single shared experience all Christians have, but instead vast numbers of experiences given overlap by shared institutions.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Love and Perfect Being

 Kelly James Clark's Cambridge Core Element, God and the Problems of Love, is open access until December 12. A few parts are interesting, but overall it is not very good; there are a number of peculiarities in the argument, and a few significant inaccuracies.

One of the major problems is that Clark's understanding of Perfect Being Theology seems to be defective. Although he does give an accurate brief summary of it, in his actual discussion, he seems sometimes to conflate it with what is usually called Classical Theism; they are not quite the same -- Classical Theists can accept a Perfect Being Theology, but not all do. Perfect Being Theology is a relatively recent approach based on the notion of God as 'Perfect Being'; it could only be an approach developed within the previous couple hundred years because God as perfect is not a natural starting-point for any kind of theology conducted in Latin and Greek (where all the relevant words usually mean that something incomplete is completed). That God is perfect is a traditional view, but because of the languages, theologians had to be extremely careful about what they meant by that, so you wouldn't start there. Perfect Being Theology really presupposes Cartesian revival of the ontological argument; the Cartesian notion of God as 'infinite perfect being' is really a precondition for this approach. Thus Thomas Aquinas, for instance, while accepting a sense in which God is perfect, does not have a Perfect Being Theology; he would in fact regard it as a presumptuous approach to theology that violates the basic principle of remotion that he shares with Christian Neoplatonists.

 Clark's account of impassibility as derived from the concept of perfect being is off. Most Perfect Being theologians take impassibility to be primarily about being immune to both suffering and being forced to undergo something (because this is what the word literally has always meant). Clark wants to follow the very narrow and not, I think, standard view that it is primarily about certain kinds of feelings -- God does not have disturbing feelings. I think this ends up confusing things. The primary reason God does not have such feelings, at least in our ordinary sense, is that he is incorporeal, and all our feelings in the strictest sense of the word are (as the word suggests) corporeal. Impassibility does also imply that God experiences no passions; this is because 'passion' means a way of being modified by the world. If you get punched in the face, you experience the passions of pain and anger, which are as it were forced on you by the punch; God cannot be forced in this way. (It does not follow that what is a passion in us cannot have a non-passive counterpart in God, which is actually quite important; more on this in a moment.) I suppose the 'disturbing' could be trying to capture this -- God cannot be disturbed, 'being disturbed' could be a way to talk about passibility. But I think most people would take it a narrower sense than this would have to mean. And it's clear that Clark himself takes 'disturbing' to indicate certain kinds of personal relations. Perfect Being Theology does not imply that God cannot be actively related to us in various ways that in us are passions; what it implies is that when this is the case, God does not have them as passions. They are not things He is made to undergo; they are things that He does.

One of the reasons to insist on this is that it is entirely possible for a Perfect Being theologian to hold that God has compassion; compassion in us involves passibility, but it's very common to argue that there is an active component in it and that compassion in us and in the form of the passible imitates what in God does not involve passibility at all. (On this account, our usual need to be moved to compassion is actually a defect; God does not need to be moved to be compassionate. As Muslims would neatly put it, He is Compassionate and Compassionating. We can only be sporadically compassionate, precisely because we have to be moved to it; not being passible, God's compassion is constant and inexorable.) To be sure, if you insist on using 'compassion' in exactly the sense that it is used to apply to human beings, then it could only be a figure of speech when applied to God; but it's generally accepted, by more than just Perfect Being theologians, that we can use the word 'compassion' to describe something not involving passibility at all, despite the fact that our own particular version does.

Clark also distinguishes love of benevolence (willing another's good) from love of compassion (empathizing with another). He at one point treats this as if it were exhaustive -- he concludes that divine love must be love of benevolence because God cannot have love of compassion -- but it is very obvious that these are not exhaustive. One reason that this is important has to do with the fact that discussions of impassibility in the context of this topic are almost all concerned to argue that God does not have craving-love (amor concupiscentiae, in the older terminology). This is the primary contrast with impassible love. Clark treats impassible love as primarily contrasted with love of compassion; but as previously noted, it's quite common to hold that God has a kind of love of compassion (based on His divine omniscience), just not our kind of love of compassion (based on animal empathy). And this is not surprising; using 'empathy' in the sense that Clark uses it is historically quite recent, and while there are some ways of talking about compassion that easily fit under what we call 'empathy', this is not true of everything people have said about compassion. The Bible and the Quran do occasionally use terms of God that suggest something like what we would call empathy, but every clear case is one where they are clearly using corporeal terms of God, and therefore (as usually interpreted) are speaking metaphorically. This is because the old words for feeling what another feels (and indeed many more recent expressions) are all very, very physical, having to do with the feeling of your kidneys or your belly or your heart. These terms are meaningful; but they are meaningful in the same way that expressions like 'the arm of the Lord' are meaningful, and for exactly the same reason.

This has some effect on how to evaluate some of the things Clark says; for instance, that the highest form of love is compassion. Maybe (although some might argue that the highest forms of love are creation and salvation, and in our case the highest form of love is to will the good of another even to the point of dying for them), but we know it's not going to be in the limited, defective ways that we experience compassion, and therefore we already know that if God has this kind of love, He has it in a better sense than we do.

Likewise, although this is more to do with traditional forms of things that we usually call 'Classical Theism' rather than the more recent Perfect Being Theology, Clark seems to misunderstand what the via negativa implies about metaphorical expressions. It does not, as Clark claims, imply that every metaphor about God can be cashed out in non-metaphorical terms, so that God has to be understood 'shorn of every metaphor'. It is entirely consistent with Classical Theism and Perfect Being Theology alike that metaphors apply meaningfully to God (in fact this is required by most forms), and it is entirely possible for someone to say that in some cases, metaphorical expressions are our best ways of describing God so that we can't cash them out into a better non-metaphorical expression. What is required is that we understand such metaphorical expressions as metaphorical expressions. Nothing about the via negativa prevents this. (In fact, historically the via negativa has been very metaphor-friendly, because as long as you recognize that they are figurative, it's easier to recognize the imperfections of our labels.)

I won't discuss Clark's discussion of hell, which is just a complete muddle, beyond pointing out that he says several false things. (To take just one example, he mischaracterizes Aquinas's account in ways I've talked about before. [ADDED LATER: I actually intended to link a different post.)

Music on My Mind


Faun (ft. Fatma Turgut), "Umay". A Turkish song about a pretty girl (named 'Umay') in a garden.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Pratima Bowes

Off and on, I've been looking into the work of Pratima Bowes. I first came across her name a while back in reading E. W. Trueman Dicken's Loving on Principle (a nice little work on the basics of Christian moral theology, which I recommend for those interested in the subject); Dicken mentions her work, The Concept of Morality, very favorably. Finding any other information on her is remarkably difficult; despite the fact that she worked in the analytic tradition, and her writings cover the gamut of that -- metaphysics, epistemology, ethics -- she seems to have been read almost solely by philosophers of religion, largely because she was an early pioneer of comparative philosophy, looking at the relation between Indian philosophy and Western philosophy (at least, that Western philosophy that was taught in British universities in the twentieth century). The only works in which I've seen her cited are all on Indian philosophy or philosophy of religion, broadly construed. Other than that, it's difficult to find anything that even mentions her. She gives a rough summary of her intellectual life in one of her works on comparative philosophy, Between Cultures:

 I was born in India in its colonial days, and received most of my education there, up to M.A. in Philosophy, after which I did my Ph.D. in England, in the same subject. The curriculum in Indian schools and universities was modelled on that of British institutions (it still is), and having gone through it one knew much more about Western civilization, history and thought, than about the Indian (of which one learns precious little indeed). I read the Bible (the Old Testament) as part of my undergraduate course in English, but nowhere up to M.A. did any Hindu religious text form part of the curriculum, not even in langauge courses such as Bengali and Sanskrit. My major, Philosophy, dealt exclusively with Western philosophical thought at the undergraduate level and only one paper out of eight at the M.A. level concerned itself with Indian philosophy....

...I then came to England as a student, did my Ph.D., settled down by marrying an Englishman, published a book (in England) on philosophy written entirely from within the Western tradition, and then went back to India for a short while after divorce. But I felt very strongly that the West was my intellectual home (I was by then a British citizen through marriage) and I had to come back however much struggle that involved. By then I had published another book in philosophy, this too from within the Western tradition. Eventually I found my way to the University of Sussex as a lecturer in philosophy....

[Pratima Bowes, Between Cultures, Allied Publishers (New Delhi:1986), pp. 15-16.]

She has another, more autobiographical work, The Story of a Female Philosopher, which I have not been able to find any copy of anywhere; from the brief summaries and allusions I've come across of that work, she was apparently born in Bengal in particular, and the move to England was in part because she argued with her family over an arranged marriage, which she refused to go through with; they seem also to have wanted her to become a doctor, a career in which she had no interest. She had a daughter with the Englishman she married, and after teaching at the University of Sussex for a while, she returned to Bengal, where apparently she tried to start up a business and did not have an easy time of it. Such, at least, is what I have been able to gather from fragmentary bits and pieces; perhaps someone out there can fill in the blanks or provide corrections as needed.

One of the nice things that used to be the case with academic blogging was that it was a great place to start a ball rolling; instead of having to focus on topics that were already publishable, you could do some preliminary groundwork, however brief and limited, toward something that might one day be a matter of importance. Some of my early posts on Lady Mary Shepherd were almost the only thing on the internet that treated of her at all; now most of them are somewhat dated, in the sense that they are obviously very preliminary, and things have certainly progressed (although not as far as they could and should) beyond the nearly-bare ground in which those posts were written. In any case, the point is that this first-foothold aspect of blogging is still something immensely valuable, and part of the reason for this post is that I think it's a shame there is so little available on this interesting twentieth-century philosopher. 

Currently four of her works are available at the Internet Archive and can be digitally checked out if you have an account (which is free, and very useful sometimes for research):

Is Metaphysics Possible?  -- a critical examination of logical positivism and similar views; Bowes's answer to the title question is essentially, 'Taking into account some complications, yes.'

Between Cultures -- an attempt to establish a framework for comparative philosophy between Indian and Western philosophy by comparing and contrasting 'architectonic' and 'organic' approaches to various problems and topics.

The Concept of Morality -- an argument that there are moral facts that allow for knowledge about ethical matters that simultaneously serves as an examination of what the purpose of moral philosophy might be. This seems to have been her most widely read and influential work.

Consciousness and Freedom: Three Views -- as the title says, a look at the problems of consciousness and free will, which Bowes thinks are related to each other in important ways; she discusses not only some of the more influential Western arguments of the time, but also a couple of important Indian philosophical perspectives on the two topics.

ADDED LATER (March 2024): I have found a fifth, misfiled apparently due to database entry error: The Hindu Religious Tradition: A Philosophical Approach.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

No Warmth, No Cheerfulness, No Healthful Ease

by Thomas Hood 

 No sun -- no moon!
No morn -- no noon --
No dawn -- no dusk -- no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member --
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! --